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Rep. Bill Owens was an odds-on favorite to win in November.  His decision to step aside clears the way for another political brawl. NCPR file photo: Mark Kurtz
Rep. Bill Owens was an odds-on favorite to win in November. His decision to step aside clears the way for another political brawl. NCPR file photo: Mark Kurtz

Owens steps aside, opening fierce NY 21 battle

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In a shocking political development, North Country congressman Bill Owens announced yesterday that he will not seek reelection in November. This announcement throws a seat which had been a safe hold for Democrats into what will likely be fierce contention.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Owens said he was stepping down following about six weeks of introspection about his role in Washington. He said gridlock and partisan venom contributed to his decision, but that "wasn't the driving force."

Owens predicted that Democrats would have a serious shot holding the 21st district. He noted that Barack Obama won the North Country region in 2012.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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I'm not afraid of another fight, I've just decided that it's time to move on.
As recently as late December, during a stop in Saranac Lake, Owens spoke confidently about his 2014 campaign. Owens said then that he would campaign again speaking confidently about his support for the controversial Affordable Care Act, which he voted for in 2009.

"I am and I have the good fortune of being in New York, where they have done an excellent job" crafting a healthcare program, Owens said.

Three Republicans have already announced their desire to seek the seat, with GOP committee chairs beginning the process of considering endorsements and supports.

Names put forward by the GOP so far include Joseph Gilbert of St. Lawrence County, Michael Ring of Jefferson County and Elise Stefanik of Essex County.

Stefanik tweeted her response to Owens' decision this afternoon, writing I thank Congressman Owens for his many years of public service.I wish him &his family well as they begin a new chapter of their lives."

She went on to say that she now views the seast as winnable:  "We are in a great position to win this seat back and bring new ideas and new leadership to NY21."

Writing in his blog today, Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham said the announcement means "game on" for the NY 21 congressional race.

"With an open seat race, anything can happen," Graham said.

"On the GOP side, newcomer Elise Stefanik has the head start but you have to look at previous candidates like Matt Doheny and Doug Hoffman, as well as prominent electeds like Senator Patty Ritchie."

Graham noted that former Senator and state Ag commissioner Darrel Aubertine's name "certainly has to be in play."

Indeed, this will spark an immediate scramble to identify a Democratic contender able to compete in what was once viewed as a safe Republican district.

Sources throughout the North Country's political world say they were taken completely off guard by Owens' abrupt decision.

Republican officials quickly trumpeted the news today.  

Responding to Owens' announcement, RCCC spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement "really, who can blame him? After squeaking out a 2 point win in 2012 and a 1 point win in 2010, Owens couldn't have been relishing the prospect of defending his support for Obamacare and its job killing medical device tax."

Most observers believed that Owens had a strong chance of winning re-election against a divided field of GOP candidates with little name recognition.

Owens full statement below:

"After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election for the 21st Congressional District this November.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel the district, meeting and serving the families and business owners of this vast community.  It has truly been a privilege to serve, and I plan on continuing to work for a brighter future for the region.

"My appreciation for the support of my wife, children, grandchildren and close friends cannot be sufficiently expressed in words. There are others — too numerous to list — to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.  The remainder of my term will be spent in much the same way as the previous four years:  assisting constituents with their individual concerns, continuing to focus on passing a Farm Bill, helping to create jobs in our communities, working for our troops and veterans, keeping the northern border secure and fluid and being a voice in Congress for bipartisanship, as well as fact-based decision making.  You can count on me to work with and for you over the remainder of my term.

"It is time for me to undertake new endeavors and spend more time with my family.   Even though I will not seek re-election, it is my goal that the next phase of my life will continue to focus on helping to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, primarily through job creation and economic development.

"Thank you for letting me serve you since November 2009.”

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